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Social collapse in America's cities: Millions of teens starving, trading sex for food

Food insecurity

(NaturalNews) Food insecurity among teenagers in America is becoming increasingly widespread and contributing to the rise in petty crimes that often place our country's youth in danger. A new report by the Urban Institute found that an estimated 6.8 million youngsters between the ages of 10 and 17 are "food insecure." In other words, great uncertainty surrounds when and if they may get their next meal.

The Urban Institute is a think tank based in Washington D.C. that conducts research on economic and socioeconomic trends. Its goal is to "open minds, shape decisions, and offer solutions through economic and social policy research," according to the group's website.

The study, Impossible Choices: Teens and Food Insecurity in America, was published on September 12, and authored by Susan J. Popkin, Molly M. Scott and Martha M. Galvez.

It found that teens are going to extreme measures, including prostitution, theft and even voluntarily going to jail, in order to guarantee their next meal.

Hungry teens turning to 'risky behaviors' to fill their empty bellies

"Food-insecure teens who don't get enough to eat sometimes resort to extreme measures to cope with hunger—from saving school lunches for the weekend or going hungry so younger siblings can eat to stealing or trading sex for money to buy food," the report found.

Not having access to food takes a toll on teenagers, the Urban Institute reveals, affecting both their physical and mental health, as well as their development and chances of succeeding in the world.

While the issue of food insecurity is widespread, little is understood about how exactly young people deal with the prospect of starvation. To better their understanding, researchers observed how food insecurity affects the well-being of children aged 13 to 18 across 20 focus groups and 10 diverse communities.

Similar themes were uncovered. For one, inadequate access to food for teens is prevalent around the nation, with adolescents often knowing either a classmate or a neighbor that is affected by the issue even if they personally are not.

Shame often accompanies teens lacking adequate access to food

Secondly, there appears to be a great sense of shame attached to food insecurity. "Teens fear stigma around hunger and actively hide it." As a result, they generally refuse help or assistance from people other than their close friends and family.

The report found that teenagers often take on the responsibility of trying to put food on the table, feeding their younger siblings before themselves, as well as strategizing about ways to conserve food.

Examples of this include adolescents planning meals at a friend or relative's home, or saving school lunches until the weekend.

Not having access to food leads teenagers to resort to reckless behavior. Males typically resort to shoplifting, selling drugs and stealing items to pawn for cash, while females sometimes trade sex for food.

Prospect of starvation leads to risky behavior among teens, report finds

"Teens in all 10 communities and in 13 of the 20 focus groups talked about some youth selling sex for money to pay for food. These themes arose most strongly in high-poverty communities where teens also described sexually coercive environments. Sexual exploitation most commonly took the form of transactional dating relationships with older adults."

"When you're selling your body, it's more in disguise. Like, if I had sex with you, you have to buy me dinner tonight," said an anonymous boy from North Carolina.

The report found that teens prefer the ability to earn money in an acceptable manner through "formal jobs;" however, this route is often impeded by their socioeconomic status and the tough neighborhoods they are raised in.

Researchers learned that in some communities, adolescents considered putting themselves in jail in order to have guaranteed access to food.

"It might not be the best food, might not be the best place to be, but it's a roof over your head," said an anonymous girl from Portland, Oregon.

Teens also discussed purposely flunking out of school so they could attend summer classes where free lunches are provided.

The study authors say programs that offer nutrition assistance benefits and provide better job opportunities for youths are an effective way to reduce risky behavior among food insecure teens.

"Also, educators and police should be trained to recognize the trauma experienced by girls who are sexually exploited and provide counseling or referrals rather than treating them like offenders," they concluded.






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